Come gather round people wherever you roam. And admit that the bullshit around you has grown.
Students used to get out of tests and assignments by explaining to sympathetic professors that they had been busy protesting the war on Vietnam. The times they are a changin.
Today college professors lead teach-ins to protest the absence of an all-out U.S. war on Syria. Back then, the public and the government trailed behind the activists. Now the public has grown enlightened, and in a significant but limited way won over the government, blocking the missile strikes, but it's not just the U.S. President who looks mad enough to spit over the casus belli interruptus. Professors are pissed.
The University of Virginia's law school has another law school next door belonging to the U.S. Army. The University has built a research "park" next door to the Army's "Ground Intelligence Center." State funds are drying up, and the Pentagon's tap has been left all the way open. This Central Virginian military industrial academic complex is where Washington finally had to turn to find anyone willing to pretend the famous aluminum tubes in Iraq might be for scary, scary nukes. In defense of that record, this week is Iraq War Beautification Week at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, always a gung-ho proponent of militarism.
Much of this is expected and typical of U.S. academia these days. But the promotions of attacks on Syria have become slicker and more insidious. Here's an announcement of an event held on Thursday:
Teach-In on Syria & Fundraiser for Refugees
Thursday, Sept 26, 6:00pm - 7:00pm
University of Virginia: Nau 101
Moderator: Joshua M. White, History
Panelists: Ahmed H. al-Rahim, Religious Studies, "Islamist Ideologies in Syria"
Hanadi al-Samman, MESALC, "The Syrian Revolution and the Plight of Refugees Today"
Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl, Politics, "Civil War in Syria"
Elizabeth Thompson, History, "Religion and War since 1913"
David Waldner, Politics, "Syria, Before: Dictatorship and the Growth of Public Opposition to the Regime"
And a ï¬lm presentation on the refugee experience
Co-sponsored by the Arab Student Organization
This announcement doesn't advertise a pro-war event aimed at promoting the deaths of large numbers of people. Peace groups sent around this announcement. I sent it around. I attended. And here's what happened:
Thompson spoke well about World War I and sat silently as her colleagues promoted a new war as barbaric as what she described from a hundred years earlier.
Waldner described the early, non-violent Arab Spring in Syria, breaking into tears, and then sat silently as his colleagues pushed for greater violence, using his stories of early nonviolence to justify it. (Somehow the opposite never happens: we never have to justify nonviolent activism on the grounds that its participants once killed a lot of people.)
The other panelists demanded more weapons for Syrian rebels, more U.S. military involvement, more war, and the violent overthrow of the government.
Students sat there silently. Professors in the audience who say they oppose war sat there silently and told each other afterwards that their complaints about what just happened should remain confidential. It wouldn't be polite to speak up.
I spoke up at the event. I questioned the panelists' fantasies about the glory of violence, their willingness to see many more people die in order to overthrow a government that would not thereby be replaced with something better.
Schulhofer-Wohl said that U.S. weapons would overwhelm the government of Syria and its Russian backers. I pointed out that the Russians have more weapons too, but this professor clearly thinks this is another Cold War and that this time Russia will give in easily and cheaply, there will be no blowback, and the pawns in the game will all benefit.
Or, rather, the evil of one side of the war justifies the other side, and the consequences be damned.
Students sat there silently.
We can laugh at academia marginalizing itself. We can celebrate the greater wisdom of the masses. But these professors, speaking in a building where a former CIA "historian" now works, are having their way. The CIA is arming the war in Syria and escalating it, against the will of the U.S. public. Students are being subtly indoctrinated with acceptance of war and with contempt for democracy at one stroke.
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